I remember driving down Highway 4 toward the Brentwood countryside to meet up with Liberty High School swimmer Kate Dwelley for today’s story when the words to an old Tim McGraw song started running through my head. "I’m gonna live where the green grass grows, watch my corn pop up in rows…." Seriously. No joke. Now, I’m not saying this rural part of East Contra Costa County is comparable to "a map dot, a stop sign on a blacktop," but for someone raised in the suburbs of Silicon Valley, it was quite a switch… and a pretty good one. It’s amazing (and rather refreshing) how much the scenery can change with just a short drive. Rather than pass a string of Starbucks, I saw one orchard after another. And I can’t remember the last time I drove behind a tractor!
The Dwelley home is surrounded by acre upon acre of farmland, which is run by Kate’s dad Mark, a third-generation farmer. Customers who stop by Dwelley Farms during the season can go home with a ton of fresh goodies, such as peaches and sweet corn. Kate told me how she used to walk through the orchards on carefree afternoons when she was little (and not in the pool). After seeing the family’s spread, I can see why.
I’ve been writing about Kate for three years now, and one of the things that always strikes me is her free-and-easy demeanor. It’s always there, no matter the environment. Even at the Olympic trials two years ago. Even on one of the biggest stages her sport has to offer, Kate was her typical carefree self. Moments after she advanced to the 200-meter freestyle final, I asked her how stressful it was to compete at such a huge event. Here’s what she said: "I had so much fun. There’s really nothing to worry about. This is just what you work for." Now that I’ve seen the sense of calm that seems to surround her hometown, it really makes sense.